Taking good care of your vehicle can keep it looking and smelling great and can help to protect the vehicle’s paint job for years to come. Regular washing with the best car detailing products will not only make your vehicle nicer to drive, but it also helps the vehicle to retain thousands of dollars in value. I’ve put together this buyer’s guide and included product recommendations for the car owner who wants to keep their car looking great, without the high cost or the hassle that comes with having it done by the pros.
Below, you’ll find a comparison chart that lists each of the products that made it onto my list, their top features, and how they rated.
Car Detailing Products Comparison Chart
Best Car Wash Soap-Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Super Suds Car Wash Soap
This top-selling car wash is perfect for once a week wash. It works specifically to remove dirt, built up grime, and debris, thanks to its super polymers that are suspended in the foaming bubbles. The soap features a gentle cleaning power that won’t damage clear coats or remove wax, so your vehicle will remain protected. The soap is easily removed with cold water, with no residue left behind. The high level of foam this wash provides makes this product perfect for use with foam guns or cannons. This is a pH balanced formula that’s gentle on paint, clear coats, and waxes.
- Rinses clean with no residue left behind
- pH neutral
- Will not harm clear coat
- Will not remove wax
- Suds are very thin
This car soap does an excellent job of removing even the toughest dirt, dried tree sap, bird droppings, and more. While powerful, the soap itself is gentle on your vehicle’s paint and will not scratch the surface, remove clear coats, or remove wax. In fact, the formula is so gentle on paint that it’s safe for regular use.
Best Interior Cleaner-Car Guys Super Cleaner
If you don’t want to buy several different products for the different types of materials and surfaces in your vehicle’s interior, then this product by Car Guys is a great buy. This spray can be used on multiple surfaces including plastic, vinyl, canvas, fabric, leather, wood, and metal. It will remove stains, old dirt, spilled beverages, bird droppings, sap, and more. This spray is very versatile and leaves behind a clean, matte finish. It will not leave behind any sticky residue, like many competing interior cleaners do. It will also protect your interior from UV damage, which is a huge selling point for people with leather interior. Additionally, this product is covered by a 100% money-back guarantee, so, if you’re not happy with the results, contact the manufacturer for a full refund.
- Multi-surface cleaner
- Does not leave residue behind
- Provides UV protection
- Cannot be used on windows or mirrors
This product is odorless, which will be a big selling point for some buyers. This multi-surface spray will fight stains, caked on grime, and can be used on the console, seats, steering wheel, carpet, and more. If you’re tired of wasting money on several different types of products to clean your interior, then you’ll love the stain fighting power this product has to offer.
Best Paint & Clear Coat Protector-Malco Epic CR2 Hydro Protect Ceramic Spray
This ceramic spray creates a beautiful shine. It’s designed to beautify and protect your car’s exterior, leaving behind a high-gloss shine. To use, simply spray it on the vehicle’s body and wipe it off. This spray will instantly brighten up your paint job while protecting it from damage. The spray repels water, which will reduce the risk of calcium deposits and water spots. The spray also protects against sun damage, pollutants, brake dust, and grime. This product creates the type of brilliant shine that can instantly make a dull paint job pop.
- Easy to apply
- Protects against UV damage
- High gloss
- Reduces the risk of calcium deposits
- Cannot be used on wet surfaces
This powerful spray leaves behind a beautiful shine, is easy to apply, and will protect your car’s paint job from sun damage, water spots, calcium deposits, pollutants, and more. This spray is simple to use and can provide weeks of protection. It also offers the type of durable protection that all vehicle owners are searching for, at a price that’s affordable.
Best Car Wax-MEGUIAR’S G200416 Hybrid Ceramic Liquid Wax
This wax by Meguiar will seal the paint for longer lasting protection against sun damage and the elements. The wax boasts superior water beading action and easy application. The wax can be applied by a variable speed polisher or by hand. The formula is designed to produce a water beading, protective, slick layer that will seal the paint from the environment. It can also be used on plastic trim and chrome and acts like a topcoat over traditional sealants and wax. This liquid wax provides the benefits of ceramic protection, which makes it easier to apply compared to traditional wax. The product’s ease of application and versatility is what makes it one of the top-selling waxes on the market.
- Can be used on chrome and plastic trim
- Superior beading action
- Easy to apply
- Seals the paint from the environment
- Because it goes on clear, it can be difficult to see where the wax has been applied
This is a ceramic liquid wax that offers a higher level of protection compared to traditional car wax. It will also dry on clear, without leaving any white residue behind. Apply by hand or use a variable speed polisher for instant paint protection. The low price and ease of application make this a must-have car detailing product for any vehicle owner who wants to protect their paint job and clear coat against the elements.
Best Tire Cleaner-Chemical Guys TVD_107_16 V.R.P. Tire Cleaner
This tire cleaner is designed to maintain and restore shine. It works by penetrating deep to restore and nourish rubber, vinyl, and plastic. The cream creates a non-greasy, long-lasting rich shine on tires. It can also be used on sidewalls, side mirrors, grates, grilles, windshield cowls, bumper trim, door panels, and dashboards. This formula will protect against fading, prevents future damage and restores rubber. It contains special UV blockers that work like sunscreen to repel any harmful UV rays that can crack, fade, or bleach rubber and other types of materials including plastic.
- Can also be used on vinyl and plastic
- Dries quickly
- Non-greasy formula
- Restores and protects
- Must be reapplied often
This product features a water-based formula that’s non-greasy and long-lasting. The cream instantly gives tires a rich wet look that will have them looking new. It’s also easy to apply, dries quickly, and can be used as often as needed to restore shine and to protect rubber, plastic, and vinyl from damage caused by the elements.
Best Car Detailing Vacuum-This Worx Car Vacuum
As every car owner knows, cleaning out the interior is one of the most important steps of car detailing. This car vacuum is highly portable, small, and powerful. Weighing just 2.4 pounds, this high-powered model features 8.8 amps of power and ultimate suction. The vacuum comes with a cord that measures in at sixteen feet long and connects directly into a twelve-volt lighter port, so you won’t have to worry about running extension cords or the battery dying on you in the middle of cleaning. This model comes with three different nozzles that will allow you to access all of those hard to reach places in your vehicle, such as under the seats and in between them. It also comes equipped with a HEPA filter, which will remove allergens from the interior, such as dust, pollen, and pet dander.
- Plugs right into vehicle’s lighter port
- HEPA filter
- Dirt canister is very small
Cleaning out a car’s interior is one of the most important steps of detailing a vehicle. This powerful, highly portable, compact vacuum comes with three nozzles, a carrying case, and is compatible with a vehicle’s twelve-volt lighter port, so you won’t have to worry about running extension cords. This model is specifically designed for vacuuming out a vehicle’s interior and offers the type of high suction power you need to get the job done efficiently and quickly.
Best Glass Cleaner-Adam’s Glass Cleaner
This glass cleaner is safe for use on tinted windows, which is a big deal, since many of the leading glass cleaners are not. It offers a powerful streak-free formula, that’s ammonia-free, and eco-friendly. When you’re cleaning windows, over applying a window cleaner is easy to do. This results in streaks and spots. But this newly formulated spray guarantees a streak-free finish, which makes it a great choice for those who are new to DIY car detailing.
- Can be used on tinted windows
- Streak-free formula
- Very sticky
If you’re looking for a powerful, streak-free window cleaner that’s easy to apply, one that’s free from harsh chemicals, and odor-free to boot, then you’ll love Adam’s glass cleaner. This is a great product for both tinted and traditional car windows. The ease of application and the non-streak formula are the biggest reasons to buy, however, another incentive is the manufacturer’s 110% percent satisfaction guarantee, which will allow you to request a refund, if you’re not satisfied with this product’s performance.
Best Car Detailing Towel-Meguiar’s X2000 Microfiber Towel
This microfiber towel by Meguiar will help you dry off your vehicle in a fraction of the time. The manufacturer claims it offers superior absorbency, which results in less wring-outs. The towel is designed to absorb up to two times more water compared to traditional towels. Additionally, it won’t leave behind lint, fuzz, streaks, or water spots. The towel measures in at 22 x 30 inches and features a waffle texture that works to improve water absorption.
- Will not leave behind lint or fuzz
- Fast drying
- Can absorb twice as much water as a standard towel
- Washing machine and dryer safe
- Material is very thin
- Only includes one towel
This microfiber towel is reusable and machine washable. It can also be tossed in the dryer. This towel is designed to help you quickly and efficiently dry off your car’s body and the windows, without leaving behind any streaks, water spots, or towel lint. The towel itself is durable, with material that can absorb twice as much water as a standard car detailing cloth.
Car Detailing Products Buyer’s Guide
In terms of car dirt types that you’ll come across, the dirt can be classified as petroleum soil, non-organic soil, and organic soil. Once you figure out the type of soil, you can choose the right type of cleaner to get it out.
Organic soil is considered anything that contains carbons, which includes carbs, bug excrement, animal excrement, bacteria, bugs, yeast, mold, body oils, animal fat, and proteins.
Non-organic soil doesn’t contain carbs. This type of dirt is usually found on the exterior of a car in the form of acid rain spots and water spots. The most common forms of non-organic soil include scale and lime deposits.
Petroleum soils don’t contain water and won’t mix well with water. They also don’t have a pH factor. This type of dirt includes chemicals such as road tar, grease, and motor oil.
Car Protectants, Polishes, and Cleaners
With so many car detailing products on the market, it can be difficult to understand the differences between each type. Essentially, there are three categories of cleaning products:
There are also products that have dual functions. As an example, a leather protectant can also clean as you apply the product. Wax is the most common and it also cleans and polishes the paint.
Wash Mitts and Soaps
Car soap is a type of mild shampoo that’s formulated to gently lubricate, clean, and restore gloss. A good soap will generate suds and excellent lubrication, which will reduce the risk of scratches. It will also be free rinsing and will leave a wonderful gloss that will make your vehicle look like it was just waxed.
You’ll need a good car washing mitt to complement your soap. A wash mitt is a better choice than a sponge since it won’t damage a clear coat finish. Grit tends to get caught in sponges and can cause light scratching.
Look for a mitt that’s free-rinsing and can hold plenty of water and soap. Microfiber mitts are recommended by the pros.
Tire and Wheel Cleaners
Tire cleaners are a type of detergent that removes the old tire dressing and brown film that forms on the tire. When you’re shopping for tire-cleaning products, carefully read the label. If the product contains petrochemicals, abrasives, or bleach, don’t buy it. These chemicals will harm the wheels and can cause the tires to dry and crack prematurely. Many pros also don’t recommend purchasing wheel cleaners. While these products work okay, they’re usually high-priced and the formula doesn’t work the best to remove tire grime. Wheels often require a stronger cleaner, one that’s able to break the bond between road grime, road tar, brake dust, and the wheel. These products come in a couple of basic formulas: acid-free cleaners, and acid cleaners.
Acid cleaners are impressively strong and often work well without much agitation. Using this type of cleaner will require extra care and caution when used on wheels that are chipped or pitted. The acid can migrate to any fissures and can accentuate peeling and flaking of surface coatings. A non-acidic cleaner is a type of mild solution.
These products are designed to loosen and lift brake dust.
A non-acidic cleaner requires some surface agitation with a sponge or brush. They’re much safer to use than an acidic cleaner and they’re not as likely to etch the finish of the wheel.
Some wheel cleaner manufacturers have released gel formulas. These gel cleaners require time to work on the dirt. A good gel product will cling to the wheel, which will give it more time to clean and remove dirt.
Undercarriage and Engine Cleaners
Some people never think about cleaning the undercarriage or the engine, which is odd considering both are the dirtiest parts of a vehicle. Cleaning both the undercarriage and the engine are both important parts of preventative maintenance.
It will take a tough chemical to remove grime, oils, grease, and dirt from the undercarriage and engine. For both areas, there are a few choices of cleaners:
D-limonene solvents and detergents work well for at-home use and won’t harm the environment like petrochemicals will.
Vinyl and Leather Cleaners
Vinyl and leather are both types of durable materials. However, oil from the human body is their worst enemy. Oily skin can cause leather and vinyl to break down, eventually discolor, and age. To avoid this, use a high-quality cleaner for your interior. Always avoid using household cleaners on your interior. Most of these products tend to contain harsh detergents. You don’t want to end up damaging leather and vinyl by dissolving the protective coating.
Carpet and Upholstery Cleaners
Carpets and fabric often take the brunt of dirt inside of a car. Unlike vinyl and leather, most types of dust, dirt, and spills cannot be wiped away from carpet and fabric. You can vacuum, but by the time you do, the dust and dirt have probably already been ground in.
Additionally, the carpet is also subject to plenty of wear and tear. Carpet and fabric cleaners must be tough enough to remove and loosen dirt, but they can’t be so harsh that they ruin the material. Fabric and carpet cleaners are available in a couple of basic forms:
Both types have their pros and cons. Foam cleaners will push more soil and dirt to the surface of the fabric and carpet where it can easily be vacuumed away. Liquid sprays will do a much better job of wetting down the fabric for a deep clean.
Plastic and Glass Cleaners
Even a vehicle that’s polished and washed won’t truly sparkle until the glass has been taken care of.
Glass that’s clear and clean is easy enough to achieve. Just choose the appropriate type of product and know how to use it correctly. Ammonia is the one wrong type of glass cleaner to use. Avoid choosing products that are ammonia-based. These products can be very harsh on a car’s interior surfaces and can also pose a danger to the user. It’s surprisingly easy to become asphyxiated from ammonia without the right type of ventilation.
Some types of glass cleaners will use alcohol as the main ingredient, which isn’t quite as bad as ammonia, however, it can still cause a headache. When wiping down the windows, use a microfiber towel since it’s easy to clean glass without leaving behind streaks and lint.
You can also use glass cleaner to clean plastic, as long as the glass cleaner you use doesn’t contain detergent, alcohol, or ammonia. Detergents and ammonia cause plastics to turn yellow, while alcohol can dull a surface.
Plastics, such as headlight covers, tail light lenses, window tint film, require regular polishing to remove minor scratches.
Choosing a polish can be pretty confusing. There are running compounds, cleaners, scratch removers, swirl removers, and glazes. When you’re shopping for a polish, make sure you use a product that has the lowest abrasive rating necessary. Many people believe that waxing a car is what makes it look good. While it’s true that a coat of wax can make a car shine, it’s polishing that makes a paint job really look sharp.
Make sure you choose a polish the matches the needs of your vehicle. If your vehicle is fairly new, then it may just need a good pre-wax, one with a low polishing capability. But if your car has water spots or swirl marks, then you’ll need a product that will specifically address those issues. Avoid using a polish that’s more abrasive than what you need to achieve the ideal results.
Unfortunately, polishes do remove a fine layer of clear coat and paint. A fine polish can be used for several years without noticeably reducing the thickness of the clear coat or paint. However, a coarse polish can rapidly reduce thickness.
Detailing Clay Bar
A clay bar, also known as automotive paint-cleaning clay, is a type of soft abrasive material that’s mixed with a clay plastic base. This bar removes contamination from the exterior surfaces of a vehicle, such as glass and paint. Detailing clay will come in small individually wrapped bars that are available in a variety of levels of abrasiveness, colors, and sizes. The bar will work by shearing off material that’s stuck to the glass and paint. Unlike a polish, a good clay bar will require only a couple of passes over the paint, leaving the surface perfectly smooth.
However, this type of clay is not able to remove paint imperfections, such as scratches.
Clay bar detailing can safely and quickly clean a vehicle’s paint without negatively impacting the thickness of the paint, which is why it’s recommended by most pros.
Glazes and Waxes
Waxing is the last step in paint care. Wax is a type of protective substance that’s either synthetic or natural. The wax will provide a thin layer of protection over polished or painted metal surfaces. Wax can be liquid, cream, or paste. Pure wax doesn’t contain abrasives or solvents for cleaning like a cleaning wax will. Many people assume the term pure wax means that the wax doesn’t contain anything by pure beeswax or pure carnauba. However, this isn’t the case. All waxes involve a blend of different substances.
Synthetics and Natural Waxes
Sealants, or synthetic waxes, serve the same purposes as natural wax. Yet, they’re usually formulated with superior durability. Synthetic waxes often contain acrylic compounds or polymers to create a surface coating that’s more sophisticated, one that offers exceptional slickness and gloss.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Should a Full Auto Detail Cost?
Basic car detailing often involves washing, waxing, vacuuming out the interior, interior polish, washing windows, cleaning the trim and mirrors, and cleaning the tires. You can expect to pay around $100 for an average sized vehicle and $150 for a van or SUV.
Can I use Dawn to Wash My Car?
No. Avoid using Dawn to wash your vehicle because it can damage and erode the paint over time and remove the protective coating.
How Long Does a Full Detail Take?
Detailing a car can take two to four hours, depending on the condition of the vehicle, including the state of the vehicle’s interior.
How Often Should You Detail Your Car?
Most pros recommend detailing a vehicle every four-six months, so about two to three times a year. However, the frequency in which you have your vehicle detailed will depend on how clean you like your vehicle.
Can I Use Laundry Detergent to Wash My Car?
Hand soap, laundry soap, and other types of cleaners should not be used. These types of soap are not pH balanced, which means they can damage your car’s paint. In order to achieve the results you want, you need to use a dedicated car soap, which will contain more lubricant.
The cost of having your vehicle detailed by the pros can be pricey. Purchasing your own car care products is a great way to save money while keeping your vehicle in great shape.
This buyer’s guide on the best car detailing products has given you just a glimpse of the many products you’ll find that are designed to keep your car looking beautiful. There are many great products on the market, and an equal number of bad products that are backed by fancy marketing. Pay close attention to a product’s contents, read car detailing product reviews, and only choose products that will work for your vehicle’s cleaning needs.